The Virginians, by William Makepeace Thackeray


Contains what might, perhaps, have been expected

On the rejection of his peace-offerings, our warlike young American chief chose to be in great wrath not only against Colonel Lambert, but the whole of that gentleman’s family. “He has humiliated me before the girls!” thought the young man. “He and Mr. Wolfe, who were forever preaching morality to me, and giving themselves airs of superiority and protection, have again been holding me up to the family as a scapegrace and prodigal. They are so virtuous that they won’t shake me by the hand, forsooth; and when I want to show them a little common gratitude, they fling my presents in my face!”

“Why, sir, the things must be worth a little fortune!” says Parson Sampson, casting an eye of covetousness on the two morocco boxes, in which, on their white satin cushions, reposed Mr. Sparks’s golden gewgaws.

“They cost some money, Sampson,” says the young man. “Not that I would grudge ten times the amount to people who have been kind to me.”

“No, faith, sir, not if I know your honour!” interjects Sampson, who never lost a chance of praising his young patron to his face.

“The repeater, they told me, was a great bargain, and worth a hundred pounds at Paris. Little Miss Hetty I remember saying that she longed to have a repeating watch.”

“Oh, what a love!” cries the chaplain, “with a little circle of pearls on the back, and a diamond knob for the handle! Why, ‘twould win any woman’s heart, Sir!”

“There passes an apple-woman with a basket. I have a mind to fling the thing out to her!” cries Mr. Warrington, fiercely.

When Harry went out upon business, which took him to the City and the Temple, his parasite did not follow him very far into the Strand; but turned away, owning that he had a terror of Chancery Lane, its inhabitants, and precincts. Mr. Warrington went then to his broker, and they walked to the Bank together, where they did some little business, at the end of which, and after the signing of a trifling signature or two, Harry departed with a certain number of crisp bank-notes in his pocket. The broker took Mr. Warrington to one of the great dining-houses for which the City was famous then as now; and afterwards showed Mr. Warrington the Virginian walk upon ‘Change, through which Harry passed rather shamefacedly. What would a certain lady in Virginia say, he thought, if she knew that he was carrying off in that bottomless gambler’s pocket a great portion of his father’s patrimony? Those are all Virginia merchants, thinks he, and they are all talking to one another about me, and all saying, “That is young Esmond, of Castlewood, on the Potomac, Madam Esmond’s son; and he has been losing his money at play, and he has been selling out so much, and so much, and so much.”

His spirits did not rise until he had passed under the traitors’ heads of Temple Bar, and was fairly out of the City. From the Strand Mr. Harry walked home, looking in at St. James’s Street by the way; but there was nobody there as yet, the company not coming to the Chocolate-House till a later hour.

Arrived at home, Mr. Harry pulls out his bundle of bank-notes; puts three of them into a sheet of paper, which he seals carefully, having previously written within the sheet the words, “Much good may they do you. H. E. W.” And this packet he directs to the Reverend Mr. Sampson — leaving it on the chimney-glass, with directions to his servants to give it to that divine when he should come in.

And now his honour’s phaeton is brought to the door, and he steps in, thinking to drive round the park; but the rain coming on, or the east wind blowing, or some other reason arising, his honour turns his horses’ heads down St. James’s Street, and is back at White’s at about three o’clock. Scarce anybody has come in yet. It is the hour when folks are at dinner. There, however, is my cousin Castlewood, lounging over the Public Advertiser, having just come off from his duty at Court hard by.

Lord Castlewood is yawning over the Public Advertiser. What shall they do? Shall they have a little piquet? Harry has no objections to a little piquet. “Just for an hour,” says Lord Castlewood. “I dine at Arlington Street at four.” “Just for an hour,” says Mr. Warrington; and they call for cards.

“Or shall we have ’em in upstairs?” says my lord. “Out of the noise?”

“Certainly, out of the noise,” says Harry.

At five o’clock a half-dozen of gentlemen have come in after their dinner, and are at cards, or coffee, or talk. The folks from the ordinary have not left the table yet. There the gentlemen of White’s will often sit till past midnight.

One toothpick points over the coffee-house blinds into the street. “Whose phaeton?” asks Toothpick 1 of Toothpick 2.

“The Fortunate Youth’s,” says No. 2.

“Not so fortunate the last three nights. Luck confoundedly against him. Lost, last night, thirteen hundred to the table. Mr. Warrington been here today, John?”

“Mr. Warrington is in the house now, sir. In the little tea-room with Lord Castlewood since three o’clock. They are playing at piquet,” says John.

“What fun for Castlewood!” says No. 1, with a shrug.

The second gentleman growls out an execration. “Curse the fellow!” he says. “He has no right to be in this club at all. He doesn’t pay if he loses. Gentlemen ought not to play with him. Sir Miles Warrington told me at court the other day, that Castlewood has owed him money on a bet these three years.”

“Castlewood,” says No. 1, “don’t lose if he plays alone. A large company flurries him, you see — that’s why he doesn’t come to the table.” And the facetious gentleman grins, and shows all his teeth, polished perfectly clean.

“Let’s go up and stop ’em,” growls No. 2.

“Why?” asks the other. “Much better look out a-window. Lamplighter going up the ladder — famous sport. Look at that old putt in the chair: did you ever see such an old quiz?”

“Who is that just gone out of the house? As I live, it’s Fortunatus! He seems to have forgotten that his phaeton has been here, waiting all the time. I bet you two to one he has been losing to Castlewood.”

“Jack, do you take me to be a fool?” asks the one gentleman of the other. “Pretty pair of horses the youth has got. How he is flogging ’em!” And they see Mr. Warrington galloping up the street, and scared coachmen and chairmen clearing before him: presently my Lord Castlewood is seen to enter a chair, and go his way.

Harry drives up to his own door. It was but a few yards, and those poor horses have been beating the pavement all this while in the rain. Mr. Gumbo is engaged at the door in conversation with a countrified-looking lass, who trips off with a curtsey. Mr. Gumbo is always engaged with some pretty maid or other.

“Gumbo, has Mr. Sampson been here?” asks Gumbo’s master from his driving-seat.

“No, sar. Mr. Sampson have not been here!” answers Mr. Warrington’s gentleman. Harry bids him to go upstairs and bring down a letter addressed to Mr. Sampson.

“Addressed to Mr. Sampson? Oh yes, sir,” says Mr. Gumbo, who can’t read.

“A sealed letter, stupid! on the mantelpiece, in the glass!” says Harry; and Gumbo leisurely retires to fetch that document. As soon as Harry has it, he turns his horses’ heads towards St. James’s Street, and the two gentlemen, still yawning out of the window at White’s, behold the Fortunate Youth, in an instant, back again.

As they passed out of the little tea-room where he and Lord Castlewood had had their piquet together, Mr. Warrington had seen that several gentlemen had entered the play-room, and that there was a bank there. Some were already steadily at work, and had their gaming jackets on: they kept such coats at the club, which they put on when they had a mind to sit down to a regular night’s play.

Mr. Warrington goes to the clerk’s desk, pays his account of the previous night, and, sitting down at the table, calls for fresh counters. This has been decidedly an unlucky week with the Fortunate Youth, and to-night is no more fortunate than previous nights have been. He calls for more counters, and more presently. He is a little pale and silent, though very easy and polite when talked to. But he cannot win.

At last he gets up. “Hang it! stay and mend your luck!” says Lord March, who is sitting by his side with a heap of counters before him, green and white. “Take a hundred of mine, and go on!”

“I have had enough for to-night, my lord,” says Harry, and rises and goes away, and eats a broiled bone in the coffee-room, and walks back to his lodgings some time about midnight. A man after a great catastrophe commonly sleeps pretty well. It is the waking in the morning which is sometimes queer and unpleasant. Last night you proposed to Miss Brown: you quarrelled over your cups with Captain Jones, and valorously pulled his nose: you played at cards with Colonel Robinson, and gave him — oh, how many I O U’s! These thoughts, with a fine headache, assail you in the morning watches. What a dreary, dreary gulf between today and yesterday! It seems as if you are years older. Can’t you leap back over that chasm again, and is it not possible that Yesterday is but a dream? There you are, in bed. No daylight in at the windows yet. Pull your nightcap over your eyes, the blankets over your nose, and sleep away Yesterday. Psha, man, it was but a dream! Oh no, no! The sleep won’t come. The watchman bawls some hour — what hour? Harry minds him that he has got the repeating watch under his pillow which he had bought for Hester. Ting, ting, ting! the repeating watch sings out six times in the darkness, with a little supplementary performance indicating the half-hour. Poor dear little Hester! — so bright, so gay, so innocent! he would have liked her to have that watch. What will Maria say? (Oh, that old Maria! what a bore she is beginning to be! he thinks.) What will Madam Esmond at home say when she hears that he has lost every shilling of his ready money — of his patrimony? All his winnings, and five thousand pounds besides, in three nights. Castlewood could not have played him false? No. My lord knows piquet better than Harry does, but he would not deal unfairly with his own flesh and blood. No, no. Harry is glad his kinsman, who wanted the money, has got it. And for not one more shilling than he possessed, would he play. It was when he counted up his losses at the gaming-table, and found they would cover all the remainder of his patrimony, that he passed the box and left the table. But, O cursed bad company! O extravagance and folly! O humiliation and remorse! “Will my mother at home forgive me?” thinks the young prodigal. “Oh, that I were there, and had never left it!”

The dreary London dawn peeps at length through shutters and curtains. The housemaid enters to light his honour’s fire and admit the dun morning into his windows. Her Mr. Gumbo presently follows, who warms his master’s dressing-gown and sets out his shaving-plate and linen. Then arrives the hairdresser to curl and powder his honour, whilst he reads his morning’s letters; and at breakfast-time comes that inevitable Parson Sampson, with eager looks and servile smiles, to wait on his patron. The parson would have returned yesterday according to mutual agreement, but some jolly fellows kept him to dinner at the St. Alban’s, and, faith, they made a night of it.

“Oh, Parson!” groans Harry, “’twas the worst night you ever made in your life! Look here, sir!”

“Here is a broken envelope with the words, ‘Much good may it do you,’ written within,” says the chaplain, glancing at the paper.

“Look on the outside, sir!” cries Mr. Warrington. “The paper was directed to you.” The poor chaplain’s countenance exhibited great alarm. “Has some one broke it open, sir?” he asks.

“Some one, yes. I broke it open, Sampson. Had you come here as you proposed yesterday afternoon, you would have found that envelope full of bank-notes. As it is, they were all dropped at the infernal macco-table last night.”

“What, all?” says Sampson.

“Yes, all, with all the money I brought away from the city, and all the ready money I have left in the world. In the afternoon I played piquet with my cous — with a gentleman at White’s — and he eased me of all the money I had about me. Remembering that there was still some money left here, unless you had fetched it, I came home and carried it back and left it at the macco-table, with every shilling besides that belongs to me — and — great heaven, Sampson, what’s the matter, man?”

“It’s my luck, it’s my usual luck,” cries out the unfortunate chaplain, and fairly burst into tears.

“What! You are not whimpering like a baby at the loss of a loan of a couple of hundred pounds?” cries out Mr. Warrington, very fierce and angry. “Leave the room, Gumbo! Confound you! why are you always poking your woolly head in at that door!”

“Some one below wants to see master with a little bill,” says Mr. Gumbo.

“Tell him to go to Jericho!” roars out Mr. Warrington. “Let me see nobody! I am not at home, sir, at this hour of the morning!”

A murmur or two, a scuffle is heard on the landing-place, and silence finally ensues. Mr. Warrington’s scorn and anger are not diminished by this altercation. He turns round savagely upon unhappy Sampson, who sits with his head buried in his breast.

“Hadn’t you better take a bumper of brandy to keep your spirits up, Mr. Sampson?” he asks. “Hang it, man! don’t be snivelling like a woman!”

“Oh, it’s not me!” says Sampson, tossing his head. “I am used to it, sir.”

“Not you! Who, then? Are you crying because somebody else is hurt, pray?” asks Mr. Warrington.

“Yes, sir!” says the chaplain, with some spirit; “because somebody else is hurt, and through my fault. I have lodged for many years in London with a bootmaker, a very honest man: and, a few days since, having a perfect reliance upon — upon a friend who had promised to accommodate me with a loan — I borrowed sixty pounds from my landlord which he was about to pay to his own. I can’t get the money. My poor landlord’s goods will be seized for rent; his wife and dear young children will be turned into the street; and this honest family will be ruined through my fault. But, as you say, Mr. Warrington, I ought not to snivel like a woman. I will remember that you helped me once, and will bid you farewell, sir.”

And, taking his broad-leafed hat, Mr. Chaplain walked out of the room.

An execration and a savage laugh, I am sorry to say, burst out of Harry’s lips at this sudden movement of the chaplain’s. He was in such a passion with himself, with circumstances, with all people round about him, that he scarce knew where to turn, or what he said. Sampson heard the savage laughter, and then the voice of Harry calling from the stairs, “Sampson, Sampson! hang you! come back! It’s a mistake! I beg your pardon!” But the chaplain was cut to the soul, and walked on. Harry heard the door of the street as the parson slammed it. It thumped on his own breast. He entered his room, and sank back on his luxurious chair there. He was Prodigal, amongst the swine — his foul remorses; they had tripped him up, and were wallowing over him. Gambling, extravagance, debauchery, dissolute life, reckless companions, dangerous women — they were all upon him in a herd, and were trampling upon the prostrate young sinner.

Prodigal was not, however, yet utterly overcome, and had some fight left in him. Dashing the filthy importunate brutes aside, and, as it were, kicking his ugly remembrances away from him, Mr. Warrington seized a great glass of that fire-water which he had recommended to poor humiliated Parson Sampson, and, flinging off his fine damask robe, rang for the trembling Gumbo, and ordered his coat. “Not that!” roars he, as Gumbo brings him a fine green coat with plated buttons and a gold cord. “A plain suit — the plainer the better! The black clothes.” And Gumbo brings the mourning-coat which his master had discarded for some months past.

Mr. Harry then takes:— 1, his fine new gold watch; 2, his repeater (that which he had bought for Hetty), which he puts into his other fob; 3, his necklace, which he had purchased for Theo; 4, his rings, of which my gentleman must have half a dozen at least (with the exception of his grandfather’s old seal ring, which he kisses and lays down on the pincushion again); 5, his three gold snuff boxes: and 6, his purse, knitted by his mother, and containing three shillings and sixpence and a pocket-piece brought from Virginia: and, putting on his hat, issues from his door.

At the landing he is met by Mr. Ruff, his landlord, who bows and cringes and puts into his honour’s hand a strip of paper a yard long. “Much obliged if Mr. Warrington will settle. Mrs. Ruff has a large account to make up today.” Mrs. Ruff is a milliner. Mr. Ruff is one of the head-waiters and aides-de-camp of Mr. Mackreth, the proprietor of White’s Club. The sight of the landlord does not add to the lodger’s good-humour.

“Perhaps his honour will have the kindness to settle the little account?” asks Mr. Ruff.

“Of course I will settle the account,” says Harry, glumly looking down over Mr. Ruffs head from the stair above him.

“Perhaps Mr. Warrington will settle it now?”

“No, Sir, I will not settle it now!” says Mr. Warrington, bullying forward.

“I’m very — very much in want of money, sir,” pleads the voice under him. “Mrs. Ruff is ——”

“Hang you, sir, get out of the way!” cries Mr. Warrington, ferociously, and driving Mr. Ruff backward to the wall, sending him almost topsy-turvy down his own landing, he tramps down the stair, and walks forth into Bond Street.

The Guards were at exercise at the King’s Mews at Charing Cross, as Harry passed, and he heard their drums and fifes, and looked in at the gate, and saw them at drill. “I can shoulder a musket at any rate,” thought he to himself gloomily, as he strode on. He crossed St. Martin’s Lane (where he transacted some business), and so made his way into Long Acre, and to the bootmaker’s house where friend Sampson lodged. The woman of the house said Mr. Sampson was not at home, but had promised to be at home at one; and, as she knew Mr. Warrington, showed him up to the parson’s apartments, where he sate down, and, for want of occupation, tried to read an unfinished sermon of the chaplain’s. The subject was the Prodigal Son. Mr. Harry did not take very accurate cognisance of the sermon.

Presently he heard the landlady’s shrill voice on the stair, pursuing somebody who ascended, and Sampson rushed into the room, followed by the sobbing woman.

At seeing Harry, Sampson started, and the landlady stopped. Absorbed in her own domestic cares, she had doubtless forgot that a visitor was awaiting her lodger. “There’s only thirteen pound in the house, and he will be here at one, I tell you!” she was bawling out, as she pursued her victim.

“Hush, hush! my good creature!” cries the gasping chaplain, pointing to Harry, who rose from the window-seat. “Don’t you see Mr. Warrington? I’ve business with him — most important business. It will be all right, I tell you!” And he soothed and coaxed Mrs. Landlady out of the room, with the crowd of anxious little ones hanging at her coats.

“Sampson, I have come to ask your pardon again,” says Mr. Warrington, rising up. “What I said today to you was very cruel and unjust, and unlike a gentleman.”

“Not a word more, sir,” says the other, coldly and sadly, bowing and scarcely pressing the hand which Harry offered him.

“I see you are still angry with me,” Harry continues.

“Nay, sir, an apology is an apology. A man of my station can ask for no more from one of yours. No doubt you did not mean to give me pain. And what if you did? And you are not the only one of the family who has,” he said, as he looked piteously round the room. “I wish I had never known the name of Esmond or Castlewood,” he continues, “or that place yonder of which the picture hangs over my fireplace, and where I have buried myself these long, long years. My lord, your cousin, took a fancy to me, said he would make my fortune, has kept me as his dependant till fortune has passed by me, and now refuses me my due.”

“How do you mean your due, Mr. Sampson?” asks Harry.

“I mean three years’ salary which he owes me as chaplain of Castlewood. Seeing you could give me no money, I went to his lordship this morning and asked him. I fell on my knees, and asked him, sir. But his lordship had none. He gave me civil words, at least (saving your presence, Mr. Warrington), but no money — that is, five guineas, which he declared was all he had and which I took. But what are five guineas amongst so many Oh, those poor little children! those poor little children!”

“Lord Castlewood said he had no money?” cries out Harry. “He won eleven hundred pounds, yesterday, of me at piquet — which I paid him out of this pocket-book.”

“I dare say, sir, I dare say, sir. One can’t believe a word his lordship says, sir,” says Mr. Sampson; “but I am thinking of execution in this house, and ruin upon these poor folks tomorrow.”

“That need not happen,” says Mr. Warrington. “Here are eighty guineas, Sampson. As far as they go, God help you! ’Tis all I have to give you. I wish to my heart I could give more as I promised; but you did not come at the right time, and I am a poor devil now until I get my remittances from Virginia.”

The chaplain gave a wild look of surprise, and turned quite white. He flung himself down on his knees and seized Harry’s hand.

“Great powers, sir!” says he, “are you a guardian angel that Heaven hath sent me? You quarrelled with my tears this morning, Mr. Warrington. I can’t help them now. They burst, sir, from a grateful heart. A rock of stone would pour them forth, sir, before such goodness as yours! May Heaven eternally bless you, and give you prosperity! May my unworthy prayers be heard in your behalf, my friend, my best benefactor! May ——”

“Nay, nay! get up, friend — get up, Sampson!” says Harry, whom the chaplain’s adulation and fine phrases rather annoyed.

“I am glad to have been able to do you a service — sincerely glad. There — there! Don’t be on your knees to me!”

“To Heaven who sent you to me, sir!” cries the chaplain. Mrs. Weston! Mrs. Weston!”

“What is it, sir?” says the landlady, instantly, who, indeed, had been at the door the whole time. “We are saved, Mrs. Weston! We are saved!” cries the chaplain. “Kneel, kneel, woman, and thank our benefactor! Raise your innocent voices, children, and bless him!” A universal whimper arose round Harry, which the chaplain led off, whilst the young Virginian stood, simpering and well pleased, in the midst of this congregation. They would worship, do what he might. One of the children, not understanding the kneeling order, and standing up, the mother fetched her a slap on the ear, crying, “Drat it, Jane, kneel down, and bless the gentleman, I tell ‘ee!” . . . We leave them performing this sweet benedictory service. Mr. Harry walks off from Long Acre, forgetting almost the griefs of the former four or five days, and tingling with the consciousness of having done a good action.

The young woman with whom Gumbo had been conversing on that evening when Harry drove up from White’s to his lodging, was Mrs. Molly, from Oakhurst, the attendant of the ladies there. Wherever that fascinating Gumbo went, he left friends and admirers in the servants’-hall. I think we said it was on a Wednesday evening he and Mrs. Molly had fetched a walk together, and they were performing the amiable courtesies incident upon parting, when Gumbo’s master came up, and put an end to their twilight whisperings and what not.

For many hours on Wednesday, on Thursday, on Friday, a pale little maiden sate at a window in Lord Wrotham’s house, in Hill Street, her mother and sister wistfully watching her. She would not go out. They knew whom she was expecting. He passed the door once, and she might have thought he was coming, but he did not. He went into a neighbouring house. Papa had never told the girls of the presents which Harry had sent, and only whispered a word or two to their mother regarding his quarrel with the young Virginian.

On Saturday night there was an opera of Mr. Handel’s, and papa brought home tickets for the gallery. Hetty went this evening. The change would do her good, Theo thought, and — and, perhaps there might be Somebody amongst the fine company; but Somebody was not there; and Mr. Handel’s fine music fell blank upon the poor child. It might have been Signor Bononcini’s, and she would have scarce known the difference.

As the children are undressing and taking off those smart new satin sacks in which they appeared at the Opera, looking so fresh and so pretty amongst all the tawdry rouged folks, Theo remarks how very sad and woebegone Mrs. Molly their maid appears. Theo is always anxious when other people seem in trouble; not so Hetty, now, who is suffering, poor thing, one of the most selfish maladies which ever visits mortals. Have you ever been amongst insane people, and remarked how they never, never think of any but themselves?

“What is the matter, Molly?” asks kind Theo: and indeed, Molly has been longing to tell her young ladies. “Oh, Miss Theo! Oh, Miss Hetty!” she says. “How ever can I tell you? Mr. Gumbo have been here, Mr. Warrington’s coloured gentleman, miss; and he says Mr. Warrington have been took by two bailiffs this evening, as he comes out of Sir Miles Warrington’s house three doors off.”

“Silence!” cries Theo, quite sternly. Who is it that gives those three shrieks? It is Mrs. Molly, who chooses to scream, because Miss Hetty has fallen fainting from her chair.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00